Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

Troubles after the Abdication of Diocletian. - Death of Constantius. - Elevation of Con

stantine and Maxentius. - Six Emperors at the same Time - Death of Maximian and
Galerius. – Victories of Constantine over Maxentius and Licinius. - Re-union of the
Empire under the Authority of Constantine.

wars and confusion.

A.D. 305-323.

THE balance of power established by Diocletian subsisted no Period of civil longer than while it was sustained by the firn and dexterous hand com of the founder. It required such a fortunate mixture of different 30 tempers and abilities, as could scarcely be found or even expected a second time; two emperors without jealousy, two Cæsars without ambition, and the same general interest invariably pursued by four independent princes. The abdication of Diodetian and Maximian was succeeded by eighteen years of discord and confusion. The empire was afflicted by five civil wars; and the remainder of the time was not so much a state of tranquillity as a suspension of arms between several hostile monarchs, who, viewing each other with an eye of fear and hatred, strove to increase their respective forces at the expense of their subjects.

As soon as Diocletian and Maximian had resigned the purple, Character their station, according to the rules of the new constitution, was and son filled by the two Cæsars, Constantius and Galerius, who immediately constantius.

and situation

[ocr errors]

assumed the title of Augustus (1). The honours of seniority and precedence were allowed to the former of those princes, and he continued under a new appellation to administer his ancient department of Gaul, Spain, and Britain. The government of those ample provinces was sufficient to exercise his talents, and to satisfy his ambition. Clemency, temperance, and moderation, distinguished the amiable character of Constantius, and his fortunate subjects had frequently occasion to compare the virtues of their sovereign with the passions of Maximian, and even with the arts of Diocletian (2). Instead of imitating their eastern pride and magnificence, Constantius preserved the modesty of a Roman prince. He declared with unaffected sincerity, that his most valued treasure was in the hearts of his people, and that, whenever the dignity of the throne, or the danger of the state, required any extraordinary supply, he could depend with confidence on their gratitude and liberality (3). The provincials of Gaul, Spain, and Britain, sensible of his worth, and of their own happiness, reflected with anxiety on the declining health of the emperor Constantius, and the tender age of his numerous family, the issue of his second marriage with the daughter of

Maximian. of Galerius. The stern temper of Galerius was cast in a very different mould;

and while he commanded the esteem of his subjects, he seldom condescended to solicit their affections. His fame in arms, and above all, the success of thp Persian war, had elated his haughty mind, which was naturally impatient of a superior, or even of an equal. If it were possible to rely on the partial testimony of an injudicious writer, we might ascribe the abdication of Diocletian to the menaces of Galerius, and relate the particulars of a private conversation between the two princes, in which the former discovered as much pusillanimity as the latter displayed ingratitude and arrogance (4).

(0) M. de Montesquieu (Considérations sur la Grandeur et la Décadence des Romains, c. 17.) supposes, on the authority of Oroshs and Eusebius, that, on this occasion, the empire, for the first time,' was really divided into wo parts. It is difficult, however, to discover in what respect the plan of Galerius differed from tlat of Diocletian.

(2) Hic non modo amabilis, sld etiam venerabilis Gallis fuit; præcipue quod Diocletiani suspectam prudentiam, et Maximiani sanglinariam violentiam imperio ejus evaserant. Eutrop. Breviar. x. i.

(3) Divitiis Provincialium (mil. provinciarum) ac privatorum studens, fisci commoda non admodum affectans ; ducensque meliis públicas opes a privatis baberi, quam intra unum claustrum resérvari. Id. ibid. He carried this maxim so far, that whenever he gave an entertainment, he was obliged to borrow a seryic of plate."

(4) Lactantius de Mort. Perecutor. C. 18. Were the particulars of this conference more consistent with truth and decency, we miglit still ask, how they came to the knowledge of an obscure rhetorician ? * But there are miny historians who put us in mind of the admirable saying of the great Condé to Cardinal de Raz: « Ces coquins nous font parler et agir, comme ils auroient fait t eux-mêmes à notre place.” 1

* This attack upon Lactantias is unfounded. who invited him to his court, and entrusted to Lactantius was so far from having been an ob, him the education of his son Crispus. The facts scure rhetorician, that he had taught rhetoric wbieh he relates took place during his own time; publicly, and with the greatest success, first in he cannot be accused of dishonesly or imposAfrica, and afterwards in Nicomedia. His repu- ture. Satis me vixisse arbitrabor et officium tation obtained him the esteen of Constantine, hominis implesse si lahor meus aliquos homines, ab erroribus liberatos, ad iter coeleste direxerit. of Gibbon's severe sentence. But the authorship De Opif. Dei, cap. 20. The eloquence of Lace of the treatise is by no means certain. The fame tantius has caused him to be called the Chris. of Lactantius fo' eloquence as well as for truth, tian Cicero. Anon. Gent.-G.

Cæsars,

Maximin.

But these obscure anecdotes are sufficiently refuted by an impartial view of the character and conduct of Diocletian. Whatever might otherwise have been his intentions, if he had apprehended any danger from the violence of Galerius, his good sense would have instructed him to prevent the ignominious contest; and as he had held the sceptre with glory, he would have resigned it without disgrace.

After the elevation of Constantius and Galerius to the rank of Au- The two qusti, two new Cæsars were required to supply their place, and to Severus and complete the system of the Imperial government. Diocletian was sincerely desirous of withdrawing himself from the world; he considered Galerius, who had married his daughter, as the firmest support of his family and of the empire; and he consented, without reluctance, that his successor should assume the merit as well as the envy of the important nomination. It was fixed without consulting the interest or inclination of the princes of the West. Each of them had a son who was arrived at the age of manhood, and who might have been deemed the most natural candidates for the vacant honour. But the impotent resentment of Maximian was no longer to be dreaded; and the moderate Constantius, though he might despise the dangers, was humanely apprehensive of the calamities of civil war. The two persons whom Galerius promoted to the rank of Cæsar, were much better suited to serve the views of his ambition; and their principal recommendation seems to have consisted in the want of merit or personal consequence. The first of these was Daza, or, as he was afterwards called, Maximin, whose mother was the sister of Galerius. The unexperienced youth still betrayed by his manners and language his rustic education, when, to his own astonishment, as well as that of the world, he was invested by Diocletian with the purple, exalted to the dignity of Cæsar, and entrusted with the sovereign command of Egypt and Syria (5). At the same time, Severus, a faithful servant, addicted to pleasure, but not incapable of business, was sent to Milan, to receive, from the reluctant hands of Maximian, the Cæsarian ornaments, and the possession of Italy and Africa (6). According to the forns of the constitution, Severus acknowledged the supremacy of the western emperor; but

(5) Sublatus nuper a pecoribus et silvis (says Lactantius de M.P. C. 19.) statim Scutarius, continuo Protector, mox Tribunus, postridie Cæsar, accepit Orienten. Aurelius Victor is too liberal in giving him the whole portion of Diocletian.

(6) His diligence and fidelity are acknowledged even by Lactantes, de M. P. c. 18.

would suffer mc loss if it should be Yet no upprejudiced person can read this some more“ obeure rhetorician." Manso, in his coarse and particular private conversation of the Leben Constanins des grossen, concurs on this two emperors, without assenting to the justice point with Gibbon. Beylage, iv.-M.

10

disappointed on OOITUIU O AMI

he was absolutely devoted to the commands of his benefactor Galerius, who, reserving to himself the intermediate countries from the confines of Italy to those of Syria, firmly established his power over three-fourths of the monarchy. In the full confidence, that the approaching death of Constantius would leave him sole master of the Roman world, we are assured that he had arranged in his mind a long succession of future princes, and that he meditated his own retreat from public life, after he should have accomplished a glorious

reign of about twenty years (7). Ambition of But within less than eighteen months, two unexpected revoluGaleriusan tions overturned the ambitious schemes of Galerius. The hopes of by two; uniting the western provinces to his empire were disappointed by

the elevation of Constantine, whilst Italy and Africa were lost by the successful revolt of Maxentius.

I. The fame of Constantine has rendered posterity attentive to education of the most minute circumstances of his life and actions. The place Constantine. of his birth, as well as the condition of his mother Helena, have

been the subject not only of literary but of national disputes. Notwithstanding the recent tradition, which assigns for her father a British king (8), we are obliged to confess, that Helena was the daughter of an innkeeper ; but at the same time, we may defend the legality of her marriage, against those who have represented her as the concubine of Constantius (9). The great Constantine was most probably born at Naistus, in Dacia (10); and it is not surprising that in a family and province distinguished only by the profession of arms, the youth should discover very little inclination to improve

revolutions.

Birth,

A.D. 274.

(7) These schemes, however, røt only on the very doubtful authority of Lactantius, de M. P. c. 20.

(8) This tradition, unknown to the contemporaries of Constantine, was invented in the darkness of monasteries, was embellished by Jeffrey of Monmouth, and the writers of the xiith century, bas been defended by our antiquarians of the last age, and is seriously related in tbe ponderous History of England, compiled by Mr. Cane (vol. i. p. 147.). He transports, however, the kingdom of Coil, the imaginary father of Helena, rom Essex to the wall of Antoninus.

(9) Eutropius (x. 2.) expresses in a few words, the real truth, and the occasion of the error, 16 ex obscuriori matrimonio ejus filius." Zosimus (1. ii. p. 78.) eagerly seized the most unfavourable report, and is followed by erosius (vii. 25.), whose authority is oddly enough overlooked by the indefatigable but partial Tillmont. By insisting on the divorce of Helena, Diocletian acknowledged her marriage.

(10) There are three opinions with regard to the place of Constantine's birth. 1. Our English antiquarians were used to dwel with rapture on the words of his panegyrist; “ Britannias illic 66 oriendo nobiles fecisti.” But this celebrated passage may be referred with as much propriety to the accession as to the nativity & Constantine. 2. Some of the modern Greeks have ascribed the honour of his birth to Drepanun, a town on the gulf of Nicomedia (Cellarius, tom. ii. p. 174.), which Constantine dignified wih the name of Helenopolis, and Justivian adorned with many splendid buildings (Procop. de Elificiis, v. 2.). It is indeed probable enough, that Helena's father kept an inn at Drepanum; and bat Constantius might lodge there when he returned from a Persian embassy, in the reign of Awelian. But in the wandering life of a soldier, the place of his marriage, and the places where his children are born, have very little connection with each other. 3. The claim of Naissus is suppored by the anonymous writer, published at the end of Ammianus, p. 710., and who in general copied very good materials : and it is confirmed by Julius Firmicus (de Astrologia. Í. i. c. 4.), who flourihed under the reign of Constantine bimself. Some objections have been raised against the integrity of the text, and the application of the passage of Firmicus ; but the former is established by the bes MSS. and the latter is very ably defended by Lipsius de Magnitudine Romana, I. iv. an. 11. et Supplement.

« ForrigeFortsett »